Mid-Atlantic slowly digs out from massive snowstorm

Thousands left without power; travelers stranded

Eugene Wilson used a broom to clear snow off the roof of his car near the Capitol yesterday. Federal agencies will be closed today in Washington, a shutdown that affects about 230,000 government employees who work inside the Beltway. Eugene Wilson used a broom to clear snow off the roof of his car near the Capitol yesterday. Federal agencies will be closed today in Washington, a shutdown that affects about 230,000 government employees who work inside the Beltway. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)
By Nafeesa Syeed
Associated Press / February 8, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Planes were grounded, trains stood still and Greyhound buses weren’t rolling in the Mid-Atlantic yesterday, leaving stranded travelers wondering when they would be able to escape the icy, gray mess created by a major snowstorm.

Federal agencies will be closed today in Washington as the region continues to dig out from the weekend storm that dumped 2 to 3 feet of snow in some areas.

The federal shutdown affects about 230,000 government employees who work inside the Washington Beltway. It costs the government approximately $100 million to close for the day. Essential services will continue and emergency employees will be required to report to work.

Hundreds of thousands of homes were without power with temperatures below freezing all day, and utilities warned that it could be days before all service is restored. Plows had scraped down to bare pavement on some main thoroughfares while not touching streets in many areas.

Many school districts across the region were giving students a snow day. For those people stranded, however, the thought of another day of weekend wasn’t much to smile about.

Joel Jones of Durham, N.C., said he was on a bus from Baltimore on Friday. When he arrived in Washington, the rest of the trip was canceled. He walked to Union Station to get a train, where he has remained, sleeping on chairs.

“I’m starting to worry because I take insulin,’’ said the 41-year-old, who has diabetes. “I got enough for like one more shot, so I have enough until tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll get on the bus in the morning.’’

The National Weather Service called the storm historic and reported a foot of snow in parts of Ohio and 2 feet or more in Washington, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia got closer to 3 feet.

Making matters worse, the weather service issued a storm watch for tomorrow, saying there was potential for another 5 inches or more of snow.

In Washington, the sun was finally shining yesterday and the sounds of shovels could be heard on streets. In contrast to Saturday, when people were frolicking on the barren streets, thoughts were on the cleanup.

The snow snapped tree limbs onto power lines, and several roofs collapsed under the weight.

Some people without electricity worried whether the power would return in time for the Super Bowl - though it was an afterthought for others just trying to stay warm.

Julia Nickles-Bryan and her husband, Charles Bryan, were more focused on keeping their twin 7-year-old daughters warm inside their Baltimore home - where the thermostat read 47 degrees. All they had for heat was a gas stove, gas water heater, and a fire in the fireplace.

“We’re basically camping,’’ Nickles-Bryan said.

Bill McKenzie, 42, a government contractor from San Antonio, was staying at a hotel near BWI Airport in Elkridge, Md., when the snow hit. He had planned to watch the Super Bowl with friends in the area, but the storm made that impossible. He spent Saturday at a sports bar next to his hotel and was back for much of the day yesterday to watch the game.

“It’s a godsend,’’ McKenzie said. “If this place wasn’t here, we’d all be starving to death.’’

In Philadelphia, 28.5 inches of snow fell during the storm, just shy of the record 30.7 inches during the January 1996 blizzard. Snow totals were even higher to the west in Pennsylvania, with 31 inches recorded in Upper Strasburg and 30 inches in Somerset.

Almost 18 inches was recorded at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which had canceled all flights. That is the fourth-highest storm total for the city, and airport officials have not decided when flights would resume.

At nearby Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the record was shattered with 32 inches. Some flights there have resumed.

At Reagan National Airport, 59-year-old Gwen Dawkins was trying to get back to Detroit. She was supposed to leave Saturday but still hadn’t yesterday afternoon because of delays and cancellations. And she said there was “no way we’re getting out of here tonight.’’

The snowstorm hit the area less than two months after a Dec. 19 storm dumped more than 16 inches on Washington. According to the National Weather Service, Washington has gotten more than a foot of snow only 13 times since 1870. The heaviest on record was 28 inches in January 1922.

Authorities say most public transportation in Philadelphia has resumed. In Pittsburgh, bus service restarted but light-rail wasn’t running.

In Mount Lebanon, a suburb south of Pittsburgh, Robb and Meredith Hartlage were again trying to clear the sidewalk in front of their house.

“We did a couple hours yesterday. I would say about four hours mixed with sledding,’’ said Robb Hartlage, 40, who said he still enjoys playing in the snow. He acknowledged, however, that the shoveling was hard work.